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July 10, 2014

Tom Lindley: Time has come to forgive, if not forget Rose

It would be simple to study Pete Rose’s record as a player with the Cincinnati Reds, Montreal Expos and Philadelphia Phillies and determine whether he should be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Certainly. Absolutely. Without a doubt.

But because of Rose’s foolish choice to bet heavily on sports, especially baseball, there’s never been a vote about his worthiness to be inducted in the game’s shrine in Cooperstown, N.Y. After a long investigation conducted by Major League Baseball, Rose was banned from the game.

There was every reason to agree with commissioner Bart Giamatti’s decision in 1989 to end Rose’s association with baseball. It meant little that Rose held the record for career hits. He knowingly broke one of baseball’s sacred rules, and there was a steep price to pay.

Rose, who once accepted the cheers and accolades of a champion, faced a life of shame and ridicule.

Many years have passed, and the once great player has survived by signing autographs along the Las Vegas strip and about anywhere else someone will give him an appearance fee. It’s as if he has been imprisoned but not locked behind bars.

This summer marks the 25th anniversary of Giamatti’s ruling and certainly will draw a public review of Rose’s actions and the appropriateness of his lifetime ban. In fact, it’s already begun.

Last month, Rose spent a day as manager of the Bridgeport (Conn.) Bluefish, an independent team, and again expressed hope that one day his lifetime ban will be lifted. He sounded contrite in an interview with ESPN’s Darren Rovell: “I’ve waited 25 years, but I’ve done so because I was the one who screwed up. And if I were given a second chance, I would be the happiest guy in the world.”

The question to consider, as in most matters where rules were broken and punishment assigned, is whether Rose has repaid his debt to his profession and a loving fan base.

Has the fallen been punished enough? Is he truly repentant?

Over the years I’ve had little mercy for Rose. He was a person with great skill but little integrity.

Yet, at times it was difficult to reconcile my feelings for him as one of the greatest players of all time — especially as an athlete who led his hometown team to championships — with that of a ballplayer whose achievements were masked by mistrust and suspicion.

I’ve now changed my mind. The time has come for Rose to be admitted to the Hall of Fame. He has lived with shame for long enough.

There are those who think the cardinal sin he committed can never be erased or repaid.

That’s their opinion.

Given the problems that baseball and all professional sports have faced over the years — especially the carefree use of drugs — Rose’s ban is worthy of a second look.

Public opinion polls continue to show strong support for acknowledging Rose’s achievements.

It would also seem appropriate that any plaque for him note his long banishment from the game. It’s all part of his story.

How this could happen and by whom is unclear. If Giamatti banned him, it would seem right that Bud Selig, the outgoing commissioner, reinstate him before leaving office at the end of the year. It might be similar to a president pardoning someone as he leaves the White House.

Rose has been a conflicting figure for as long as he’s been around the game. But he’s not alone.

Baseball has long had those who tarnished the game with their misdeeds — the Chicago “Black Sox” who threw the 1919 World Series; Detroit’s Denny McLain, who was as accomplished at embezzlement as he was pitching; and all those players associated with steroids and performance-enhancing drugs.

There’s no question about Rose’s guilt.

There should also be no doubt that he’s paid a high price for his crime.

Tom Lindley is a sports columnist for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. You can write to him at tlindley@cnhi.com.

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